Margaret Sanger, "Foreword to For Legalized Birth Control," 1934.
Margaret Sanger wrote the foreword to the New Republic's pamphlet, which compiled two articles: "Wasting Women's Lives," by Helena Huntington Smith and "Birth Control's Business Baby," by Elizabeth H. Garrett.
So convincingly do these essays expose two different aspects of a heartbreaking national tragedy that it has become imperative to reprint them in the pamphlet herewith presented for the consideration of serious-minded Americans.
Helena Huntington Smith summarizes “the long-standing horror” of America’s maternal death rate. Behind this picture of the appalling waste of women’s lives we can sense the desperate need and utter frustration which preceded the fatal effort for relief.
In contrast--and in what vividly dramatic contrast-- Elizabeth H. Garrett exposes the new generation of profiteers and quacks which has arisen to batten upon human misery, credulity and despair, and amass greedy profits from the traffic in pseudo-contraceptives.
This situation, which all sane-minded people must deplore, has arisen as a result of the confusion and indifference of public opinion. The intelligent citizen cannot absolve himself wholly from blame so long as he stands aside, while the battle to supplant confusion and ignorance by an honest, long-range program for racial health is being fought.
In a test of more than one hundred of these so-called “contraceptives,” undertaken by our Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in New York City, forty-five were discovered to be utterly unreliable. This fact will not, of course, come as a surprise to most people. On the contrary, it would be a revelation if they had been found to have value. The phenomenon is part and parcel of the whole fabric of “big business”. A high-pressure salesman unloads his wares upon indifferent pharmacists, along with highly-colored and deceptive window displays and suggestive advertising material. Concerning the efficacy, the harmlessness or the potency of these products, the guarantee is implied rather than explicit, evasive rather than assured.
During the last five years this business has grown by leaps and bounds, not always because it seeks honestly to minister to human needs but because, with diabolic insight, it has supplied the demands of desperation.
It was precisely this lamentable possibility that I foresaw some eighteen years ago. That premonition compelled me to attempt to divert the current of opinion within the ranks of the Birth Control movement away from the so-called Free Speech aspects of the campaign to the necessity of a scientific approach. Cooperation of the medical profession was imperative if the women of America were to receive the best information available--for even then the adulteration of drugs and the traffic in quack nostrums was a scandal smelling to the heavens.
We called upon the leaders of the medical profession to inaugurate modern research into the whole problem of contraception from the physiological point of view, and to develop from the resources of science a technique that would be harmless and unfailing. Concerning the moral and ethical aspects of the problem, we insisted that they could not be delegated to any external group but that parents must decide these issues for themselves. And on this we still insist.
The medical profession was, unfortunately, less responsive than women themselves in recognizing the crucial importance of the technique of contraception. More recently an aroused section of public opinion has stirred the doctors out of their lethargy. As individuals, many are rallying to the cause of Birth Control. But even today, as an organized national body, this profession withholds its support from legislative measures that are organically related to their liberty and the most pressing problems confronting them.
Confusion concerning State and Federal legislation is evident. One of the clearest of judicial opinions and I think one of the earliest was that of the New York State Court of Appeals, handed down by Justice Crane in my own case in 1918. This specified that contraceptives might be prescribed to safeguard the patient against “disease or the prevention of disease.” Woefully inadequate this decision stands in an era like the present. What is imperative today is the removal of the whole problem from the realm of secrecy and commercialism into the daylight of intelligent control and supervision. The objectives sought by the Birth Control movement must become part of a clear-sighted and long-range program of national and racial health.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project